A half century later, Prague teens find a better use for a city park
PRAGUE, Czech Republic — He swerves. He falls. He tries again. The wheels of his board scratch against the pavement, creating a muted buzz - the friction of plastic on worn asphalt.
Then he musters his energy into a vertical impulse. Upward he drags his skateboard, which seems glued to the soles of his feet. He is suspended in the air for an instant. Then his body, board and feet come tumbling down.
The grinding resumes as the wheels again find their place on the pavement.
It swings. It stops. It swings again. Enclosed in a metal cage, the wheels of the metronome spin ever faster, creating enough momentum for its red rod to lurch forward. A mechanical drone echoes in the park as the metronome turns right, then stops. Turns left, then stops, in a patient back and forth.
The metronome was built for an exhibition in Prague’s Letna Park in 1991, atop the shattered remains of a gigantic monument of Joseph Stalin. The statue, built two years after the Russian leade’s death in 1953, had depicted Stalin, followed by a farmer, a laborer and a soldier. At 50 feet high, it was, until it was destroyed in 1962, the largest group statue in Europe.
It was also a constant reminder of the Czechs’ lack of freedom, an assertion of the limitations on their ability to assemble, publish and express themselves. The monument symbolized the “Stalinization” of what was then Czechoslovakia, and the victory of Soviet rule.
The statue overlooked the Old Town from a commanding position: the heights of Letna Park.
Now only its stone graffiti-covered base remains. A bright red 75-foot metronome designed by Vratislav Noovak has replaced it. Chipped stone steps and metal stair railings litter the stone plaza below - a consequence of the emerging skateboarding culture.
From the heights of the metronome one can see the tops of Prague’s baroque and medieval-inspired architecture. Sitting on a ledge that overlooks the city and the Vltava river is 19-year-old Adam Marcan, who visits the metronome often.
It’s a little piece of quiet, he says, “where not a lot of screaming or cars can be heard.” He listens to the whirring of the metronome in tandem with the scraping wheels. “It sounds good,” he sighs. The sound of the metronome adds a peaceful hum to Letna Park. Marcan squints in the bright sunlight as he takes in the view. “It’s something more free, very natural,” he remarked, “to go to relax and forget problems.”
Problems seem to be the least concern for those skateboarding here. A place that once symbolized fear and oppression has become a haven for a new generation.
Sixteen-year-old Jorge Vondra and his friends call this place “The Stalin.” Young teens come out after school and on weekends to socialize, and to practice new skateboarding tricks.
It’s not only a center for young people to gather, but a place to reminisce while basking in the beauty of the city. The metronome, a symbol of new times and liberation is, in Adam Marcan’s opinion, “the last of the best places in Prague.”
It also marks time, freedom and a new sub-culture. “Excuse me,” Vondra said, “but I have to skateboard now.”
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